Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to have fun with St. Lucy

St. Lucy was born ca. 283 and she was martyred in 304 during Emperor Diocletian's martyrdom, so she would have been about 21-years-old at the time of her death.

We say on her feast day, "Today is the day of Lucylight, shortest day and longest night," and that's because back when we had the Julian calendar, in other words, before the mid-16th century, her feast coincided with the winter solstice. Since the world adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII, that now falls on December 21.

Something else that's significant with her is, if your priest says Eucharistic Prayer I (which I hope they all do on a fairly frequent basis because it's the most ancient in terms of use and one could reasonably argue the most beautiful), she is one of eight women mentioned in it, all of whom except for the Virgin Mary were fellow martyrs. In fact, two -- Ss. Perpetua & Felicity -- in the book Saint Who? 39 Holy Unknowns.

The story is that Lucy was a good Sicilian girl from the city of Syracuse, and her story is almost identical to many accounts from this period of Church history. It seems every Western European country has a female martyr whose story is almost identical to hers. For instance, in Saint Who?, we read about St. Faith of Conques, whose story isn't identical but very similar.

Anyway, the story further says that her parents had betrothed her to a pagan, even though she had consecrated her virginity to Christ. Noticing her coldness to his advances and romantic gestures and witnessing the many good works she did, her betrothed put two-and-two together and turned her into the authorities for being a Christian. Some accounts say he already knew she was a Christian but was willing to overlook it for reasons we'll make clear in a moment.

Supposedly what happened was that Lucy tried to talk her mother out of making her go through with the wedding. She told her, "...whatever you give away at death for the Lord's sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death." Her intended heard from a gossip that Lucy had found a "nobler bridegroom" and grew jealous, especially because he stood to obtain a great fortune by marrying this wealthy maiden.

The governor first sentenced her to live in a brothel, because, you know, what better sentence can you give to someone who wants to maintain her purity for Christ?

When the day came to take her to her new home, the guards couldn't move her. She was stiff and unmovable. They then condemned her, and even though the Romans tried various methods of killing her, stabbing her through the throat, burning her, nothing harmed her. So the guards gouged out her eyes. Like Bl. Lucy the Chaste, a Dominican nun who took her for her namesake, another version says that her fiance was so captivated by her eyes that she gouged them out herself and said, basically, "Here, take them if this is what you want. Now leave me alone to live for God."

The interesting thing is that her name may not have actually been Lucy. Some think they only gave her that name after her martyrdom since Lucia, which is where we get "Lucy", comes from the Latin lucis, which means "light." So even though she couldn't see temporal things after her eyes were removed, she always saw the light of Christ. One ancient writer says that, "In 'Lucy' is said, the way of light."

However, accounts of her eyes aren't found until the 1400s, and it's thought that maybe the name "Lucia" came first and, because the name means "light," the story about the eyes came later.

Sometime in the 7th century, her relics were taken from Syracuse, and were moved to different places over the next few hundred years. Regardless, her body was in Venice by at least the late 1400s, and in the Church of St. Jeremiah is where they rest today. I've been there, and what you see is a plaster body, where the feet stick out. They're definitely incorrupt feet, although the skin looks like it's full of moth holes.

In 2005, I visited Venice and got to see this first hand ...

 In any event, her feast is a big deal throughout Europe, a big, big deal, especially in Sweden and Italy. In fact, it's one feast that Lutherans still celebrate. You can imagine why in Sweden, because of the long, long winter nights. The day when the days start getting longer is definitely cause for celebration.

Each Swedish town votes a young lady "Sankta Lucia." She wears a crown of candles and, escorted by girls in white with a red sash and "star boys," she brings light and song (and saffron buns!) to homes and workplaces.

And, of course, one of the songs sung is "Santa Lucia," which is the same tune in Italy as it is in Sweden. In Sweden, it's all about being a light in the darkness, whereas in Italy, the lyrics deal with sailors and waters and looking out on the dark, starlit sky up at heaven.

The feast is even celebrated in our own country in a big way in Omaha, although it's celebrated in the summer. They have a procession through the city's streets that features a statue of the saint and a first class relic, that is something from her body.

St. Lucy's feast is a great Advent way of preparing for Christmas and, by extension, the Second Coming. When I lived in Sacramento, we used to celebrate it every year. We invited families over from church and other friends to a big party.

We'd tell her story to the kids and give them eyeball-themed candies (for instance, chocolate balls wrapped in tinfoil painted as eyes is pretty easy; eye gummies, etc.), we'd sing the English-language version of "Santa Lucia," and we'd float a pair of plastic eyeballs in the punch. One year we served eyeball cupcakes on a platter (mimicking her iconography, where she is depicted as holding a plate with two eyeballs on it).

Not far away, one neighborhood really did it up with the Christmas lights. Each house was amazingly festooned with lights, and the neighbors served hot chocolate and cider. So we'd have everyone caravan over, and we'd walk around admiring these people's handiwork.

The great thing is that there are special St. Lucy Day recipes. The Sicilians make a sort of pudding called cuccia, whereas the Swedes serve coffee and Lussekatter (or St. Lucia Buns).

St. Lucy's Day Cuccia (Sicilian Cuccia)

Cuccia is a traditional dessert, served only on St. Lucy's day In Sicilian households. In legend, Saint Lucy brought wheat berries to the Sicilians. The leftovers are a special treat eaten for breakfast the following day.

•1 pound wheat berries
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup corn starch
•2 1/2 cups milk
•1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
•1/2 cup semisweet chocolate bits
•1/2 cup candied citron


Soak wheat berries in water overnight. If you aren't cooking them in the morning, the wheat berries can continue to soak, but change water in the morning.

Drain wheat and place in a wide-bottomed soup pot with water to cover by two inches. Add salt and simmer for three hours or until tender. Add water if necessary. When tender, drain excess water. Set aside, covered.

In a small bowl whisk cornstarch with 1/2 cup milk until cornstarch is dissolved and smooth. Put in a saucepan with remaining milk, lemon zest, and chocolate bits. Cook over low flame, stirring continuously, until milk thickens. Be careful milk does not boil.

Remove from heat and mix with drained wheat. Add citron just before serving.

Serves 12.

Lussekatter (St. Lucia Buns)

St. Lucy's day marks the opening of the Christmas season in Sweden. Lussekatter are their delicious saffron buns made in any number of figures: cats, "s" shapes, or figure eights.

•1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
•8 ounces (1 cup) milk
•1 tablespoon yeast
•1/2 cup sugar
•4 ounces (1 stick) butter
•5 cups all-purpose flour
•1 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup sugar
•2 large eggs, beaten
•1 beaten egg white for egg wash


Using a mortar and pestle, pound saffron threads to break down strands.

In a small saucepan, heat milk to lukewarm.

Mix yeast with 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.

On low heat, melt butter in saucepan with milk. Add crushed saffron. Let cool.

In large bowl, mix together flour salt and remaining sugar.

Stir yeast into cooled milk mixture. Mix into dry ingredients, beating to mix well. Add beaten eggs. Knead in bowl for 5 - 7 minutes. Turn onto floured board and knead another 7 - 8 minutes.

Put dough in lightly greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover and put in warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1 hour.

When dough has risen, knead lightly to push out air and divide into small pieces (about 10 - 12). Using the hands, roll each small piece into a strip about 8 - 10 inches long. Shape each strip into an 'S' or a figure 8. Place on lightly buttered cookie sheets.

Cover with clean cloth and let rise again until double in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

When dough has risen, brush lightly with egg white. Bake in preheated 375° F oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on wire rack.

Yield: 10 - 12 buns

recipe from

Contributor: Kerstin Bergstrom
"Santa Lucia" (find the tune at
Verse 1
Now 'neath the sil-ver moon
O - cean is glow-ing,
O'er the calm bil - lows,
soft winds are blow-ing.
Here balm - y breezes blow,
pure joys in - vite us,
And as we gent-ly row,
all things de - light us.
Hark, how the sail-or's cry joy - ou - sly ech-oes night:
San-ta__ Lu - ci - a, San-ta Lu - ci - a!
Home of fair po - e - sy, realm of pure har-mon-y,
San-ta__ Lu - ci - a, San-ta Lu - ci - a!
Verse 2
When o'er the wa - ters
light winds are play-ing,
Thy spell can soothe us,
all care al - lay - ing.
To thee sweet Na - po - li,
what charms are giv-en,
Where smiles cre - a - tion,
toil blest by hea-ven.

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